Our culture is changing rapidly, and many Christians aren’t keeping up. The old formulas that have worked for decades won’t work with the emerging generation. If there’s one lesson that the modern, successful evangelical church needs to learn it is this. We need a fresh perspective on what our world is like today from someone who has escaped the Christian subculture and ventured into the heart and hearts of non-Christians.

Enter Dan Kimball. His book, They Like Jesus, but not the Church, gives the perspective that is badly needed. Many adjectives could describe this book: wise, witty, gutsy, convicting, passionate, and compassionate. But one word that kept coming to mind was “smug”—because this attitude was conspicuous by its absence. Kimball humbly assesses what the church has done right and especially what it is doing wrong. He speaks as a representative of the church, never parading a haughty apologetic, but offering a vulnerable look at how we are missing our opportunity to be energized by the missionary calling that is placed on us all.

In one respect, Kimball’s They Like Jesus is Joe Bayley’s Gospel Blimp for a new generation. It hits between the eyes that our concern for our culture is not optional, not something that we can pay others to handle, not something for theoretical chats with other like-minded Christians. To borrow and pervert Michael Patton’s phrase, we can’t outsource our theology and we can’t outsource our evangelism. Our concern for our culture must be seen in getting outside our comfort zone, genuinely loving people and meeting them where they are at. This mission mandate has been a part of true Christianity since Jesus uttered the Great Commission. That hasn’t changed. But what has changed is the world around us. We are in a postmodern age, and our task is not to call people to modernism. Our task is to call them to Christ, and to do so first by listening to them, respecting them as individuals, loving them as friends.

For a variety of reasons, the evangelical church has been teetering over a precipice for some time. Not too much will push it over the edge. Tragically, that could happen from its own self-destructive forces in the next few decades. In many ways, we have left our first love in the 21st-century American church and replaced it with mere symbols of a hollowed-out spirituality—or worse—political agendas and Pharisaic attitudes. Kimball clearly sees the danger and speaks prophetically to the church, wooing it back to its Lord and back to the Lord’s heart and agenda. If you read this book even half-heartedly, you’ll be uncomfortable, convicted, and challenged down to your toes. Think what will happen if you really hear what Kimball is saying! I can say this book is a world-beater. I pray that many, many Christians will read it, absorb it, and think through how they can emulate Christ’s love for the world in a way that is both true to the gospel and palatable to those who have lost their way. At bottom, Kimball is showing us that we have the privilege to love those who are not like us, and that we must do so. The gospel is not just about proclamation, but about wooing someone by genuinely caring for them. Too many Christians have been raised in battle-ready apologetics techniques. These won’t cut it any more (not sure they ever did). Without backing down one iota on what the gospel is, Kimball cuts a path for reaching our culture with love backed by truth, rather than truth that has a low regard for love.

I know this sounds like an ad (and I sincerely do hope that Kimball sells a boatload of these books because this message is that important to get out), but if you could read only five books this year, They Like Jesus, but not the Church should be one of them.

If any have read it, or parts of it, here’s a good place to talk about what you’ve read. I wanted this blog to be your turn to talk with each other about this book. What do you like? What do you not like? Where is Kimball pushing the boundaries too far? Where is he too soft? Have you got better ideas for how to reach those who are about to face a Christless eternity? I’m all ears.

    15 replies to "Dan Kimball’s They Like Jesus, but not the Church"

    • youngreformer

      first off, i havent read the book. after reading this maybe i will check it out.

      i am part of the generation you dudes would label as postmodern and emergent. i can easily see how christians can disconnect themselves from culture and become irrelevant to the lost. it all goes back to “in the world, but not of the world”. we always have to fight to maintain that balance. i can say from first hand experience that the Lord used “emergers” to bring me closer to christ. growing up where i have, rap is the music on the street and the force that drives how people dress, talk, and think. i was blown away when i started to listen to some rappers that sounded distinct. (cross movement records) these guys were the first people to school me on christology, trinitarinism, and church history. they are not your typical “christian sub-culture” artists. God has used these type of people to reach out with selling out.


    • youngreformer

      without selling out*

    • CMWoodall

      I have mixed feelings about this book.
      In some ways it screams sentiments that I have about the Church’s attitude toward evangelism.
      I also like anything that will aggravate fundamentalists–this book will do that!
      But I’m afraid of the wrong message getting across.
      Since they like Jesus [Kimball admits they have the wrong guy] but not us, then *we* rather “I” must change how we/I function as one of the Church’s [the body of Christ] members!
      So is this book another emergent missile aimed at an already weak ecclesiology? possibly.
      Something in me cringes when I hear that someone likes the thought of a loving, kind, accepting, tolerant Jesus–but hates my guts. We have a false impression to transcend–not a Church to change.
      They must wonder how bigoted, irrational, uneducated, intolerant hate-mongers ever came to represent the opposite expression of a warm, inclusive, encouraging, & overall flat Jesus. They have got both just as badly wrong. Well, certainly the Jesus part. We sometimes confirm our own type-cast.
      This doesn’t make me want to change the Church, it makes me want to reflect Him better. If that is the impression they have (of Jesus & his Church), then we have to prove them wrong with incarnational ministry.
      He is right that this is hard to commit to.
      If people take away the conclusion that Church needs to change, then they are committing the same fallacy that the po-mo commit in projecting their notion of Church onto what it really is. Our job is to prove what it REALLY is, not to change it to conform to the world’s finicky tastes.
      It’s sort of like the bloke who says, “sure I fancy sex, but relationships are not worth it!” Do we just give’em what they want, or do we honor the Christ we serve by giving them the whole gospel? We cannot let them think that private spirituality (romanticism en-route to gnosticism) with a concocted Jesus can replace authentic life in the Body of Christ.
      Our job would seem to be to root ourselves more deeply (like through TTP) in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, while recklessly smashing all their misconceptions. If I were more authentically Christ-like they couldn’t possibly get the wrong impression.
      So I do like the ‘wake-up’…I just hope people don’t go thinking that Church should acquiesce to the Post-modern misapprehensions of Church.

    • Saint and Sinner

      I’d suggest Bryan Follis’ book on Francis Schaeffer, “Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer”, instead.

    • C Michael Patton

      I just recommend U2. They were emerging when emerging wasn’t cool. 🙂

    • youngreformer

      i’ll take your word Michael. im gonna download some of their songs and see why you have such a love affair with them.

    • F. Turk

      Dr. Wallace —

      I’ve read the book and agree with you about it’s tone overall. As I read it, however, I found that Pastor Kimball foundationally takes the opinion that we can trust the perceptions of people about Jesus and about the church who are, if we accept Scripture as even only reliable and not infallible, spiritually-blind.

      In that, how would you receive the criticism of this book that Dam Kimball is too charitable to unbelievers here, and too critical of the church? For example, Pastor Kimball works the non-believer’s view that Jesus was a “loving” person (meaning he didn’t condemn sinful behavior) into a legitimate belief of the love of Christ; at the same time, he accepts the unbeliever’s perception that the church judges sin too harshly as wholly legitimate when it is based on media stereotypes. Isn’t that a little unfair both to the unbeliever and to the church?

    • F. Turk

      FWIW, I’m ambivalent about U2. They seem to miss the forest for the trees philosophically, but they rock.


    • Dan Wallace

      Thanks for the excellent comments, folks! My take on what Kimball has done is this. Basically, he is not telling Christians that they need to change how they love the Lord, but he is telling them that they need to change how they relate to the world. And he does spend a lot of time on the false perceptions that non-Christians have about both Jesus and the church. Essentially, I think that Kimball is saying that we have a great opportunity before us and we are squandering it. We don’t know non-Christians and they don’t know us. So, they are insulated in their thoughts about Jesus and insulated in their thoughts about Christians. In both cases they are ignorant, but they like Jesus but not the church.

      Essentially, he’s saying that we can work with what unbelievers think about Jesus as a starting point. But if you read all of Kimball’s book, you’ll soon realize that he’s not soft on sin nor on doctrine. That’s a caricature of what he believes.

      As for what unbelievers think of the church, Kimball is very clear that what they think is a misperception, but one that has a grain of truth in it. His major thrust is that we should be missional-minded Christians. This means that we need to communicate with unbelievers, we need to truly love them, and we need to earn the right to be heard. The media perception that we come out with guns blazing, shooting first and asking questions only of the mortally wounded, is not too far from the truth.

      I read the draft of the book long before it came out. I have used his tag line in evangelism since, and it really hits a nerve. In today’s world, however, how we come across and when we come across has to be linked to the tempo of the culture. Jesus altered his approach from Nicodemus to the Samaritan woman. If unbelievers know us more for our hatred of abortion, homosexuality, Democrats, and gun control, than they do for our love of Jesus and for doing good in our communities—good that is tangible and defensible before the harshest critics—then it’s high time that we change. Frankly, I think the American church today has hitched its star to the Republican party for too long, and the media picks up on that. I thought we were called out to be above all that. Or to put this another way: The Moral Majority is dead. Long live the King!

    • centuri0n

      Dr. Wallace —

      I think that particular criticism — that we have become more about a political agenda than about the Gospel — is exceedingly keen. That is -not- to say I think we can just give the democrats a hug and let them slip on personal responsibility and the sanctity of human life, but it -is- to say that we are an “easy girl” for right-wing poseurs who bring use red-state roses and sweet nothings about judges and defense of marriage to have their way with us.

      The problem — the gross problem — is that churches in America -do- do a lot of civil good, and the media takes that for granted (which I think is a charitable thing to say) and instead covers things like the ever-daffy Fred Phelps cult or that latest baseless prophecy of Pat Robertson.

      I was chatting with Pastor Kimball about his book on-line, and I asked the question, “who has ever actually met a Christian who looks like the media stereotype?” For example, who has ever actually seen someone verbally attack a homosexual for holding hands with his, um, friend in public? I’ve never seen it. Pastor Dan says the people he talks to have seen it, but when you ask a room full of Christians who has ever seen such a thing, you can’t find any.

      The people I know are flying to Nicaragua to build a new school for Feed the Children, and adopting baby girls from countries which are killing their daughters because they not as respected as boy-children, and supporting whole families and villages through Compassion International, and sending, all told, about $11 billion in private giving to Africa (as one example). And that’s not to mention the food pantries, the benevolence giving, the ESL classes, the daycare centers, the crisis pregnancy centers, etc.

      My point in that rant, really, is to say that the representation that we are bad disciples is, at best, one-sided. And Pastor Dan uses that perception to suggest a lot of, shall we say, interesting ideas such as female leadership, and a re-reading of Acts 3:19 that turns Peter’s call to repentance on its head (pp 104-105).

      There’s no question: the contemporary America church needs a big dose of the actual Gospel — what Paul described to Titus as healthy doctrine and the behavior which goes with it (thanks, NetBible). But that is not to say that we are utterly absent of what’s right, theologically or pragmatically. Believing that -is- the wrong kind of fundamentalism, the wrong kind of Christianity. We are in dire straits, but God is faithful.

      Thanks. I feel much better now.


    • […] Dan Wallace recommends Dan Kimball’s newest book, They Like Jesus, but not the Church, concluding, “I know this sounds like an ad (and I […]

    • murmex

      This is the type of discussion that makes me wonder sometimes. I wonder, what is the point of the church? Are we called to worship the Christ as He has revealed Himself, or find out how to relate to the world of today?
      Are we to evangelize, or are we to make sure we are not offending others?
      There seems to be something missing in our discussion that I see over and over in the demands of Christ and His apostles: Repent, or perish. The world has ideas of what they want, but that changes as a person grows or progresses through life. It seems to me that the message of Jesus was the same to both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman; change your thinking about Who I am and what God does.
      This world has heard that God loves them, and now they sincerely ask us, “What is there about me not to love?” And we now have that attitude in the church. It is all about me and what I want. We need to face the truth that repentance is still required by God.(Acts 17:30
      “Our task is to call them to Christ, and to do so first by listening to them, respecting them as individuals, loving them as friends.” What if our task was to point out their need of the Savior and to change their minds about Him?

      What if we reaally depended on the Christ Who has the power to give life to whomsoever He wills?(John 5:21) What if we really responded to the fact that the fields are white to harvest, and that it was God’s harvest? What if we really taught and believed what Jesus told Nic, that the Spirit moves where He wills?(John 3:6-8, 21) What if we just did it istead of talking about it?
      Maybe the chruch needs to admit that we are weak, so we can be strong; be smart enough to know we are foolish, so we can have the wisdom of God. We are told to do everything but preach or proclaim. God says He operates by the ‘foolishness of preaching’. It is just sad the church today calls that foolishness.


    • Dan Wallace

      David, thanks for your thoughtful response. It is certainly true that the proclamation of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, as Paul says. But what is foolish is the content of the gospel, not the way in which we proclaim it—or at least it shouldn’t be! When Paul spoke to the Athenian philosophers his tack was quite different from what he said to the Jews in Thessalonica just a few weeks earlier (and, I would still maintain, Jesus’ tack with the Samaritan woman was quite different from his approach to Nicodemus). He knew how to meet people where they were at and communicate the gospel to them so that what was offensive was the message, not the messenger. Remember that Paul also said that he became all things to all people so that he could win some. Would you say that Paul’s attitude was all wrong—that he needed instead to “point out their need of the Savior and change their minds about Him” rather than “call them to Christ”? Is it not possible to do both? After all, when we think about why Jesus went to the cross, it is possible to give his perspective as “to serve” mankind (Mark 10.45). Yet, he also says that he came to glorify God. Do we really have to choose between these two options and say that Jesus could have done only one of them? I think you may be creating a false dichotomy.

      As well, I would argue that there is a lot right with the American evangelical church, and there is a lot wrong. It is not altogether what it should be. Does this mean we should accent repentance above all else? I think we’ve done that for a long time, almost to the exclusion of other aspects of the gospel. I am by no means arguing that we can tell someone that they don’t need to repent if they want to get saved (neither is Dan Kimball arguing that, by the way). But I am saying that how we say it, when we say, and why we say it speak volumes about our approach to the gospel.

    • murmex

      Dan, thank you for your response. There are so many aspects that we need to remember when presenting the Gospel. It is so true we need to be all things to all men. Sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in being correct, or even makeing sure that we don’t lose anyone that we forget sometimes God uses us to plant seed, water, and to harvest. It is His harvest. I was just saying that it appears we have many ‘believers’ now with no conversion in their lives.
      Another thing that concerns me is that we can make sure we are being so right about how we are presenting that there is fear we might say something wrong, so we don’t present any Gospel at all. I like a story of D. L. Moody. After speaking once a lady came up to him and said,”I don’t like how you preah to people about Christ. I don’t think it is theologically correct.” He responded, “Exactly how do you do it?” She sid, “Right now I am studying how to do it, so I am not doing anything.” Moody said, “Well then, I like what I am doing wrong a lot better than what you are not doing right.”
      I like the simplicity of Mark 5:18-20. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. 19 However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” 20 And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled.
      Methods may change, the message doesn’t. The goal of making disciples who observe what the Lord taught us is the same in every generation.
      I am reaaly in agreement with you, just looking at the jewel in a different light, and we need as much light as we can get. Thank you for your insights


    • Dan Wallace

      Amen to that, David! Great story about Moody. I never heard it before!

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